Team play and luck seen necessary for Czechs to win first ever home U21 Euros

Photo: CTK

The biggest football tournament ever held in the Czech Republic gets underway on Wednesday evening with the opening game of the European Under-21 Championship between the hosts and Denmark at Prague’s Eden stadium. Who are the star names to watch out for? And how far can the Czechs go? I put those questions to journalist Michal Petrák. But I first asked him what hosting the U21 Euros means for Czech soccer.

Pavel Nedvěd,  photo: CTK
“As [former European player of year and tournament ambassador] Pavel Nedvěd said yesterday at the press conference, this might be the only generation of players who have a chance to play an Under 21 Championship on their home soil. So it means very much.”

Nedvěd also said that it would be a success for the Czechs to get out of their group, which also includes Denmark, Germany and Serbia. What would you consider a success for the Czech Republic at this tournament?

“The same. If you look at the squads of their opponents, there are players who regularly play for big European clubs, who have much more experience.

“There were some problems in putting together the Czech squad. For instance, Watford didn’t let Matěj Vydra go, which is I think a huge blow for the team.

“I think getting out of the group would be considered a success.”

What players in particular are you looking forward to seeing? I’m sure many people would like to see Harry Kane of England, for instance.

“Yes, of course. There are several very interesting players. Like tonight we are going to see [Ajax’s Viktor] Fischer in the Denmark team.

Pavel Kadeřábek  (right),  photo: CTK
“The German team is full of young and gifted players. Let’s name for example [Barcelona’s Marc-André] ter Stegen, who is a Champions League winner. There are many players in all of the squads who are of interest.”

Is this tournament a chance for some Czech players to kind of put themselves in the shop window of European football? I’m thinking of for example the defender Tomáš Kalas of Chelsea, who is always out on loan from Chelsea, or Václav Kadlec, who is now back at Sparta Prague [after a spell at Eintracht Frankfurt].

“Yes. I think most Czech players take it as a chance. There were some obvious names who would high be on the shopping lists of the big clubs, regardless of whether they are playing at the Euros or not.

“For example, Pavel Kadeřábek has gone today to Hoffenheim in the German Bundesliga.

“I think it’s pretty obvious that the names you mentioned will be looking forward to some kind of exposure.”

I remember in 2002 the Czechs won the Under 21 championship, with players like Petr Čech, Tomáš Hübschman, Milan Baroš, Zdeněk Grygera and Martin Jiránek. Is there any chance that this generation could repeat that great success?

“Well, there is a small chance. As I mentioned, name-wise the Czech squad can’t be considered a favourite to win the Euros.

“But I think this outsiders’ position suits the Czechs pretty well. They are used to it.

Photo: CTK
“We mentioned Nedvěd – yesterday he remembered Euro 1996 in England, when the Czechs also had a tough group and were also considered one of the outsiders in the whole tournament, but in the end they reached the final.

“I think the main condition for them to succeed is team play, which is something which is traditional for Czech teams at such tournaments.

“They will have to play as a team. They will have to choose good tactics. And they will have to hope that their opponents like the Germans or Denmark – which are stronger teams, name-wise – won’t have their best day the day of the games.”